the avowal

Posted by on September 5, 2012



The Avowal
by Denise Levertov
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

* * *

While I’m not certain if Creator Spirit was on the list of dogmatically acceptable names for God in seminary, and while I personally find it just a little corny as a proper noun, only because in my ears, for whatever reason, it sounds a bit wannabe Native American (although, for all I know, it might be legitimately so), I do like Denise Levertov, and I do like this poem today. I like the parts about floating and the hawk.

While driving Elsa to her preschool today, she was humming an old tune that I remember from church camps. Maybe some will remember. The lyrics are from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it shall be given unto thee / seek and ye shall find / knock and the door shall be opened unto thee / Alaylooo, Alayloooooyuh.” I didn’t teach her the song so I asked her if she had learned that from her Papa Tom–my father-in-law who is a retired Southern Baptist music minister, and has just been here visiting us. She didn’t seem quite sure where she had learned it, but it made me think about the question of striving–all the asking, seeking, and knocking that seems to happen in me, as if of its own accord, impulsively and sometimes obsessively. It’s good to know that all of these strivings will be honored, and have many times been honored, I think. But most of the time, I feel as if the needful thing for me is to stop striving– to go easy on myself and stop flapping my wings so hard. I’m sure there are Bible verses about that too, and maybe some now-forgotten campfire songs as well, so no worries.

This is going to be a chatty post. I’m reading some good books. One is 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann. It is fascinating. I heard the author interviewed on Fresh Air and it was so interesting that I had to pursue the book. It is not disappointing. I have no mind for history, quite literally zero mind for history, so I need books that involve dates and dead people to be lyrically written, and exhibit a knack for decent storytelling, and this book meets both of those criteria. And speaking of Native Americans, it makes me want to read more about them, only on the condition that I can find a book about them that is lyrically written, and displays a knack for good storytelling.

I also checked out a big stack of essay collections at the public library, including Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books. (By the way, why don’t you hear the term belles lettres used more often? I was at an independent bookstore in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis a few days ago, and they had a section demarcated as belles lettres, which I thought was the most sensible thing I have encountered in a long time.) I love Marilynne Robinson’s fiction, but was taken aback when I tried to wade through her other nonfiction essay collection, The Death of Adam, as I thought it lacked the warmth and simplicity of her fiction. And more honestly put, it was just too esoteric for me. This collection, so far, is a little bit more readable for my little brain, although I still fear that I am only truly grasping a small percentage of what Robinson is trying to communicate. She is just very intellectual, and her mind is hovering somewhere in a strata of the hemisphere several floors above where mine is comfortable residing. Still, sometimes prose is enjoyable to read even when it is only vaguely comprehensible, and only beautiful and clever prose can force a lazy mind like mine to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Belles lettres.

In other news, Jeff and I took the opportunity of having his parents here to go see the new Bourne movie. It was good. The plot was 100% identical to the other Bourne movies, and yet it was still great. How did they land on this successful formula, and why does it strike such a popular chord? Luck, probably. I still find the original Bourne movie totally watchable, which is remarkable, because how many other spy or suspense movies can I say that about? In any case, it reminded me of the existence of things like national security, and the CIA. I always forget about those things, and then when I remember them, I wonder if the way of life I so take for granted really does come at the expense of all sorts of secret agent-type things that I really would not approve of it they were known to me. Does my living a simple life as an ordinary civilian depend upon other people living really complicated, ethically questionable, disproportionately powerful lives?

Between this and reading sweeping accounts of history involving various pandemics of yellow fever and malaria and invasive species which altered centuries old terrain across centuries and continents, as well as Robinson’s comments about the Cold War, and–I almost forgot– finishing up the final season of Foyle’s War, a great BBC series which, more than anything else I have ever seen or read makes me wax thoughtful about WWII, well, it makes me feel the smallness of my own life and maybe the futility of my own strivings. How small am I in the context of it all? It makes me suspect that even if I do flap my wings and paddle my hands, I will hardly affect the outcome in the end. I am floating down a very large lazy river of sorts, living a life that I didn’t ask for, so I might as well relax and to some extent let the current carry me.

But in defense of the simple life, it is always interesting to note that the Bourne movie plot is about people who submit to the most complicated lives possible who are now trying to extricate themselves and go back to the privilege of leading an ordinary, simple, and hidden life, only to find this to be the most difficult thing in the world to attain. How much more preferable to not submit to a complicated life in the first place?

Posted in: Poetry Wednesday
  1. A M B E R
    September 5, 2012

    I don't think I would have been able to pull off that blog post… you manage to bring all these different things you're thinking about and reading into such a tidy little essay. Chatty, you say. Lovely, I say.

  2. Manuela
    September 5, 2012

    I agree with Amber. You really are, once again, and I cannot say enough, a very gifted writer. You write about your life and all the little details, and I get hooked while reading it, and want to read more.